Conservationists, officials clash over what one calls ‘destructive’ tree clearing; launch competing ads

Stock image | Photo by Deyanarobova, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A Utah-based conservation group and a state organization are going head-to-head with competing advertisements over the practice of chaining, a method removing pinyon and juniper forests to make way for sagebrush and grass habitat.

In a TV spot that’s airing now, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is calling the practice a failed policy that leaves a devastated landscape, warning that the Bureau of Land Management plans to use the technique in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. On the SUWA website, they state: “The practice of chaining is so unbelievable that most people can’t imagine how destructive it is.”

Watch SUWA’s ad below.

Vegetation removal by chaining is achieved by dragging a large anchor chain between two crawler tractors over forested landscapes, which are subsequently reseeded to make way for the growth of vegetation appropriate for livestock and wildlife foraging.

“The bulldozers used for these chainings travel back and forth as the chains, which can weigh more than 20,000 pounds, flatten hundreds of trees with every pass,” SUWA stated in a news release. “As this occurs, the chains rake across the surface, destroying soils, sagebrush, grasses and forbs and leaving discarded trees in their wake, which can litter the landscape for decades.”

According to SUWA, the removal projects disrupt fragile ecosystems, destroy cultural sites and interrupt the visual aesthetic of an area.

In response to the campaign, Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative, a partnership of government agencies and private landowners, released a competing ad in defense of the practice. Touting benefits such as improved water flow in streams, growth of native, drought-resistant plants and reduction in the severity of wildfires, the ad encourages viewers to “get the full story.”

Watch Watershed Restoration Initiative’s ad below.

Used since the 1950s by federal and state agencies on public lands, chaining and similar vegetation-removal practices are used on older stands of pinyon and juniper where the trees have almost completely driven out grasses, flowering plants and shrubs.

Before (top – 2006) and after (bottom – 2015) comparison photos show the results of a chaining project that took place near Hamlin Valley, Utah | Photos courtesy of Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative, St. George News

Research and monitoring from across the West have shown long term success with the treatment technique, according to a WRI news release, which added:

“Studies have shown significant increases in grasses, flowering plants and shrubs following chaining as well as increases in available soil moisture.”

SUWA, however, in its news release, stated that any benefits beyond providing better forage for sheep and cattle lack scientific support.

“By throwing out so many possible rationales, the agency gives itself a variety of justifications to hide behind,” SUWA said. “This makes the projects harder to challenge and more likely to be approved and funded.”

The primary push of SUWA’s campaign is to prevent chaining in the newly reduced borders of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument where the BLM is proposing chaining as one of the methods to remove vegetation on over 13,000 acres.

“Chaining is completely incompatible with protecting the fragile ecological, paleontological and archaeological resources in Grand Staircase,” SUWA’s release stated.

According to the WRI, no “green tree” chaining projects in the monument are under consideration for the upcoming fiscal year, and no new management plan has been devised that would allow for the type of chaining depicted in SUWA’s commercial.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • Craig February 23, 2018 at 11:17 am

    An environmental group vs a government agency.

    Do we pick a side by trying to determine which is the least absurd?

    • snowflake1 February 23, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      Just take a hike!!!
      … in a new cashmere or recycled hemp sweater.

  • mesaman February 23, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    Once again the tree huggers have shown their enthusiasm outdistances their knowledge. Huggies, there will always be an abundance of junipers and pinyons but their presence prevents foraging for animals. Apparently the value of animals is greater than the trees. I agree.

    • Death Valley February 24, 2018 at 8:29 am

      Once again the stupidity of Utahns comes shining through. Your comment is typical of someone with a “drill baby, drill” mentality. Ignorant to your graves.

      • comments February 24, 2018 at 3:23 pm

        with m&m that is so very true.

  • Lee Sanders February 23, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    Granted, the pinyon/juniper (PJ) removal procedure does increase browse and grazing. This is not just for livestock but wildlife as well. Sagebrush habitat is critical for sage grouse reproduction and the PJ forest is almost completely void of their breeding grounds. Compared to the habitat after the sometimes “invasive” pinyon and Juniper, the forest is of reduced habitat value. It is good for cover for larger animals, but islands could be preserved to fulfil that benefit. It is good for pinyon nut production, but again could be maintained by islands of forest. It is good for post and firewood production. I resent those folks calling themselves conservationists, they are more accurately called preservationists-which has its place in certain circumstances.

    If you are interested in a professional take on the issue, please copy and paste the following URL published by the Society of American Foresters.

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